Saturday, April 6, 2013

running the gauntlet

it was there when we woke up yesterday morning

thick cardstock

winding, neat, almost branch-like lettering across ivory

the message not meaning much of anything aside from the implied authority of the time and place listed

the specifics, as per usual, were semantics

honestly, David and i had felt on edge for the few days prior to that...

least then we knew why

The Author wanted to see us.

you always tended to Know when he did

David, of course, wanted nothing to do with it

tore up the paper and threw it out

as if that meant anything

"Ah, Mr. Banks and Sam Freeman."

we had to go

"I hope the trip wasn't much trouble."

i can remember... trying to run from him before. i did it twice. a long time ago. the first time would have been... after i'd done away with Dimme. i knew right down to my core... that i couldn't run. that there was no where TO run. but i did it anyway. it would have been my second audience with The Author... and perhaps that's why i was so certain that only death awaited me in that stifling office. an office that held the same stagnant air as that of a tomb...

"Come in... Sam Freeman, was it? Right on time.               
I assume that you'll have no problems with me addressing you by your name,               
considering it's one of the few things we actually know about you.               
Unless you'd like to be called by your title...?"               

               "...You can call me anything you want... Sir."

the first time had only proven to what degree of shit i've been thrown into. to what level these people - proxies - operated. how it was all... just business. that's how he had said it, the first time. how he knew of Dimme's attitude. her... hobbies... and he was apologetic for it, but it was what it was. and it was just business. making sure i realized that the situation could have been easily avoided... and my future suffering could have been avoided as well. at the time, just that little spark of hope of getting away from Dimme... it had seemed so tantalizing... but, for it, i'd have to fill in... everything that i'd left blank in my history...

  David's first words were bitten off. "What do you want?"


and i couldn't do that.

               "...Every action has a reaction. 
               By withholding information, I've made it more...
               inconvenient for you and this... business...
               So you make it ten fold harder on me. 
               I understand..."

"You misunderstand."                   
                     that tone came as a command.                 
"It's not out of spite. Far from it.                 
 You're not being punished.                 
 In fact, I find your case rather... interesting.                 
And I... can certainly appreciate the value in keeping                 
your past life away from prying eyes.                 
I empathize with you, Sam. I am not heartless,                
despite my colleague's assertions of the opposite.                
 But I have the lives of many, many people on my hands,               
and Dimme is loyal to our cause.                

But are you?"               

i was much different back then. still trying to make the adjustment. still trying to fully grasp what my life had become. where i was and why. still trying... to build my wall up against this living nightmare. still trying to adjust... how my mask fit over emotions that i couldn't risk showing anymore. and in that office... it was twice as hard. hard to glance across the massive hardwood desk that did nothing to dwarf the man seated on the other side with eyes that dug too deep. that saw too much. that took everything to just... not react to. to let every word. every topic. just roll away.

i... couldn't manage a greeting anything more than a nod.
tension seeping into my nerves by the second.
the air held the same charge... the same... burning chill... as Redlight
i knew it would, but to actually...

and it still wasn't good enough

i wasn't used to being the center of anyone's attention.

i wasn't used... to even talking anymore. not at that point.

Dimme always used to tell me that pawns had nothing worth saying.

               "I... suppose that Depends.
      the Cause for His profit? Or your own...?"

"Think about it logically, Sam.               
What would I have to gain to devoting my life               
to an Organization that mobilizes the proxies               
and gathers them under one commonality,               
 that gives them food, stability, shelter, and companionship?               
Their loyalty...? I'm sure you've gathered that I don't need it."              

he never blinked. or didn't seem to.              

"Our cause is not His cause, yes.               
But that is because the Creature spreads               
pain, confusion, and suffering everywhere it goes.               
I do not pretend that I understand the Slender Man,               
 nor His whims,               
and I have been followed by Him for my entire life.               
But I think that a cause that aims                
to reduce casualties is a just one.               
"Of course, such a nest of thieves, brutes, and liars               

can't function without a slight bit of honesty.               
So I'm going to ask you to be honest with me.               
You'll find I'm a reasonable man, Sam,               
when I'm given the opportunity to be.               

Can you tell me anything about your past life               
if you knew it would never leave this office?"               

i remember thinking... about how tired i was. i didn't even know how long it had been since i'd been picked up off the side of the road by other proxies. the ones that looked at me as if i'd just drop down from mars. a guppy. not anyone who was going to stay around for long, for sure. and in that office, the weight over me felt doubled. tripled. the time i'd spent in the "business" already just... blurring together. could have been a week. could have been a month. it would have felt exactly the same.

 "My apologies, Sam, for my causal relationship in regards to your discomfort.
But I assure you, what you're feeling has long been associated with me
before Redlight was even a glint in some Monster's eye.

You'll also have to accept my apologies, David.

But the reason that I've called you both here is simply to talk. You see...
You two are simply some of the only Proxies left. 
Aside from the ones under the new Organization's protection, of course, 
and the free agents. 
Though the latter make poor company,
as I'm sure you're both aware."

i remember thinking... of how much it hurt to even move. Dimme's work fresh across my abdomen.

i wasn't cut out for this

i knew that

it wasn't who i was

wasn't anywhere near it

Darkseeker and his group had known it from first seeing me

i was a joke

just a joke...

but who was going to protect Leo if i didn't?

i had to make it work


               "...Why do you even give a damn?
               I'm not... like you people. 
               I'm not a liar. Or a brute. Or a thief. 
               I have no place here.
               I vowed... to serve HIM, I didn't... 
               I didn't even know what a Proxy was. 
               One of the three that picked me up - Darkseeker 
               He had to explain it to me. 
               And this... business. I didn't realize...

               ...But I'm here. I was brought in. 
               I'm doing as I'm told the best I can manage... 

               ...why isn't that good enough...?"

 "...You needn't apologize."
quiet and flat. as i always am these days.
 "I knew what I'd... feel here. Far from our first meeting, after all.

Though I... we're.. barely what I'd consider Proxies anymore, Author. 

I lost that connection a long time ago now. 
The... mentality... never really leaves of course, but..."

"... I'm sure it's hard for you to understand, Sam.               
And I'm sure you've made sacrifices. We all have.               
But mutual respect and trust                
is the only way survival can happen,               
and the only way we can have that                
is if we can tailor your experience with us               
through information about the person you used to be.               
There's no other option.               
You will either earn your independence               
 and, to a certain degree, your freedom,              
though simple honesty...               
or you will earn it through trials by fire.              

It's your choice."               

and then he said it

the one thing that would make me trip, no matter how tightly i was trying to keep it together.

i suppose... he took a shot in the dark. though a logical one.

after all, what is the one thing that can make someone go through absolute Hell in order to protect?

"... You know, Sam... my son is listed in my file."             

 "You're too kind. But despite what Redlight says, 
I firmly believe that a loyal servant of the Creature will always be as such,
 at least if they so choose to be. He'd say that makes me foolish, 
and I'd be hard pressed to disagree. 
But what is a man but the sum of his mistakes? 
Something I'm sure you're currently struggling with, no doubt. 

It's a shame the conditioning didn't hold, Sam. 
It would've solved quite a few...


it had been... like someone punched me in the stomach. i couldn't breathe. the only thought circling around and around my brain like water down a drain was that He Knew. i didn't know how much, but he knew. somehow. at some point. i'd twitched. or tensed. or looked away. or looked up. or shifted or maybe froze. somehow he knew... and i nearly broke. i nearly... started begging for him to leave it alone. to leave my baby boy alone. that i'll do anything. anything, if only he just...

the only thing that stopped me... was his own voice continuing. telling me how this boy of his was raised in one of "those dreadful camps" where they... "beat reverence of the Thin Creature into you." adding that he didn't know his mother. going on about the different stories that he was sure i'd been told about him. what manner of monster he was, and assured me that he wasn't about to deny that. that we were all monsters when we needed to be. that we all did what we had to do, for good or for bad. but if i were to ask him... if he regretted letting his son be used as a puppet for someone else's game... then his answer would be yes. every day. he could have raised him under his wing. kept him in control. but because The Author... wished to dedicate himself completely to his cause, his son grew up without him...

 "....I'm sorry." 

Those two words again. 
Words Red had given me a LOT of practice using. 

"I... I'm sorry. I... I didn't mean for any of this... any of this. 
I didn't.... i never... It all... got out of hand so fast. Too fast.
I tried to control the spiral, I did... but..."
i swallowed hard. eyes down. picking at my sleeves.
a nervous habit of mine. 
"I couldn't. I... tried, but I couldn't and then I just...
I wanted Out. It was HELL and I just... wanted Out... i thought...
 I thought he'd kill me when I challenged him.
I thought it would be over. I...
I didn't want... to help cripple the Organization like I did. 
I never liked it, but it wasn't my intention to destroy it. 
It had its purpose, it...

  I'm sorry..."

it was a clever game really...

bringing up his own son

to try to find common-ground with a new recruit

all to jimmy the lock... if only a little...


"You may wonder why I chose to tell you this.               
You probably think I'm lying.              
 I don't blame you.              
 I suppose I'd like for you to avoid               
making this transition any worse.              
 Plenty of proxies lead rich, fulfilling lives,             
thanks to us.              
 I want you to be able to be happy here,              
 but the fact of the matter is that               
we're in the business of making monsters.              
I can't help you at all if you don't let me.              

 So, do you have anything to tell me,              
or am I just wasting my time?"              

"We know."
David's arms come around my shoulders from behind my wheelchair. 
Simply, casually, supportive. 
"No one here blames you."
"Well, I don't blame you. I guess I can't speak for others."

black or white.

that's what he was telling me

and the choice had to be made then and there

there was no secret that i was exhausted.



and he had the authority... to change that...

if i let him

if i gave him what he wanted

               "...I was a high school teacher."

i didn't want to die. and, die, i would. least if Dimme had anything to say about it.

               "No... training. No military service..."

i had to survive. for Leo's sake. even if survival meant... giving up a few details...

               "No... criminal record 
                besides a few speeding tickets when I was a teenager. "

then i could do that

                "Stable parents. Stable... life, really. 
                For the most part. I was lucky."

as my last hope

                 "I was good at my job.  
                  I liked... teaching kids... 
                  i... wanted to help..." 

but only with a few details

                 "But it doesn't matter anymore. 
                  None of it is going to help me here. Or help you."

only a few

                  "I just... don't... want to go back to Dimme..."

only a few...


For a brief second, his expression was stunned.
As if... not fully believing what he was hearing. Seeing.
I don't think he ever heard me apologize before.
And then, for the first time ever in company... he took a sip from his own whiskey.
"...It would've happened with or without your involvement, Sam. 
David is completely correct.
Yes, it's a shame, but it was far from unexpected. 
If I was to blame someone, 
it would be the Monster that orchestrated this whole mess..."
He rose from his seat, pacing slowly.
"The Monster that serves the Creature,
who has had a shadowy part in the Organization's operations since I founded it,
 much to my increasing chagrin. But as you both know, 
it's impossible to keep Valtiel out of any business that he wishes to be involved in.
 Though how far his influence spreads is a mystery, even to myself..." 
Another pause, as he takes a deep, steadying breath.
Such shows of uncertainty and emotion are rare from him.

"Rat. Contessa. Baron. Legacy. 
All names that likely mean nothing to you; 
all what you used to call the "Highest", now missing or dead. 
And though I'd hardly call them my friends, 
they were my esteemed colleagues.
 Due to my miss-steps, my neglect, 
some of the most powerful people known to man, 
gone in an instant. 
Forced into hiding or worse. 

You both have nothing to apologize for."

When he laughed, it was near jarring; 
not in that it sounds wrong, like an imitation, 
but rather in how bitter it was.
"We all had our own reasons for co-operating, 
and I'd never be naive enough to imply that they all had noble intentions. 
But the way things are now... 
I'd like to believe that, perhaps, collectively, we were doing good. 
But I digress. 
You both aren't here to listen to the ramblings of a tired shell of a man. 
I figured as the sole survivors of the olden days, 
as the last ones standing, 
well, you deserve a few answers."
He winces, then drinks.
"If you want them, that is. 
It's really no trouble, given the circumstances."

 "... I appreciate you trying to work with me, Sam,                
but the reality is, things like that don't matter much.               
We have to know who you were before you got here.               
What you were doing when He found you, preferably.               
Who you were traveling with.               
All the parts of your recent history that you left blank.               

Maybe... we could start with something small.               

We've assumed...               
you were at a hospital not long before we found you.               
But, with the Creature's tendency to move people,              
we can't be sure where.              
Can you tell me which hospital it was, Sam?"               

it took a moment for me to realize... how utterly screwed i was. 

how fast the door had slammed shut on what was, admittedly, a very naive hope.

i wasn't going to be earning any favors here. the only place i was going was back to Dimme. there was nothing that was going to stop it. no one... that was going to stop it. i was going to die amongst these people. in this business. this... machine of monsters. and it wasn't going to mean a damn thing to any of them. they would just... continue right along. Dimme would just shrug her shoulders. call me weak. no big loss. just a guppy, after all...

                  "I... I'm sorry for wasting your time."

"... On the contrary.             
It was a pleasure speaking to you, Sam."              

"...I'd like to hear whatever you have to... to say.
 After I... broke free of his strings the last time before... 
before David intervened to free me... 
Redlight allowed me to... 
most of what he'd blocked from me
 as I watched myself dance under his will. 
Most of what I remember from that is... fire. 
Blood. A hive of voices...
For a long while, I wasn't even sure... 
anything was left of the Organization at all.

...How much is left? 

How have you been... managing it...?"

the door had burst open... and strong arms closed around me. twisting. yanking me to my feet. i was... startled, at first. but only at first. letting myself slide back behind my wall. numbing them out even as i felt my stitches break. numbing them all out. all the world. and yet... i still managed to hear The Author when he told me to inform Dimme if i ever... had something to tell The Author. that she'd follow procedure. that she... knew better than to not... and then the air seemed to constrict. the proxies - my kin - took notice of the change and dragged me out and away.

i never asked Dimme to speak to The Author

she'd be dead before i returned to that office

and, return, i did. with my head hanging low and arms tied behind my back - merciless of the fact one of my shoulders was no longer sitting in the socket. step bearing a definite limp. nose broken and bleeding, accented by black eyes. all gifts from the very kin who dragged me forward by my arms. might very well have been the same ones. but, of course, those were only the injuries that i had gained upon my "arrest". everything that Dimme had done during our last... altercation... had its own lasting effects...

"... Not nearly enough.
Not nearly enough is left. 
A great deal of raw manpower was lost to the Network, 
and having all our other sectors wiped out 
in one fell swoop has obviously caused problems. 
The Proxies that are left are simply under our protection.
'Assignments' are obviously not feasible after all,
 so now they lack leadership and focus.
At least with the old system, 
those who were recruited by the Organization 
could function almost normally, or at least openly. 
Now, we're back to back-alley dealings and petty bribery. 

And then there's the issue that the Proxies that are left are displeased 
that we provide assistance to Runners as well.

 Not that this practice is anything new, 
but I suppose they need someone to blame. 

Really, the whole mess is rather barbaric, isn't it?"

i had run, of course. not that had helped me any. condition being what it was, it didn't take me all that long to get myself cornered.

and like a stray... i bared my teeth and fought

"...Why wasn't he killed?
Why wasn't he stopped...? 
Of all those that were held and managed under the Organization... 
why did he slip through the cracks? 
Was it really that... that easy to overlook...?
 The system blocked so much of us, so MANY of us... 
there were threads everywhere... 
why wasn't he stopped? Why? 
He could have been. 
It didn't have to come to this. 
It didn't...

...Why was he left to get this far? 
Was it... simply because he was yours...?"

my head was swimming under that presence again. everything spun over itself. twisting and churning. i barely... noticed being taken over to the desk. the seat. steadied on my feet as they took a moment to remove the rope around my wrists... and popped my shoulder back into place. my body folding from the sharp twist of pain... but that worked just fine for them. pushing me back into the waiting chair. keeping a hand there just long enough to make sure i wasn't planning on passing out quite yet... and then they left in a silent rush. eager to get away from the vibrations in the air that only stirred my mind around more and more...

when my eyes opened - though i hadn't been aware of closing them - the first thing i saw was a glass of whiskey waiting on the desk in front of me. i could see my reflection in the glass. just a no name nobody. bloody in black. a mess of torn fabric. i could have been anyone at all...

beside the glass, an open folder was slid across the desk

at the top, the very first line read: Renee Alberta Flynn.

just underneath, it read something much for familiar: Dimme.

one by one, The Author placed photographs on top of the file. slowly covering it up in a gruesome collage of blood, organs, and bone. each one featuring a different detail... of my own work. each one from a slightly different angle that brought a twitch into my fingertips in memory... of what it felt like to FINALLY pay back some of what she'd done to me. all the times she drugged me. paralyzed me. and then cut into me. DISSECTED me. removed PIECES of me and sown the damage back together... then expected me to perform the very same day...

 "Because they can't save anyone," David spits. 

she didn't think i was strong enough

smart enough

she was wrong

lethally wrong

and that felt... wonderful.

"You're proud of your work, I see."              

i felt his stare on me, but i didn't want to meet it. i didn't want to acknowledge it. if i did, then i'd have to face whatever punishment he had in mind for killing off one of his precious agents. for struggling from the chains he himself helped fasten around me, as if his word was law. as if his word was His Word.

i had a thought at that moment... of what it might be like to string up someone like The Author from his very own chains

and then another thought came forward... that i might just be going goddamn insane

in all honestly, the thought somewhat intrigued me

after all, where had sanity gotten me?

 "You're not entirely incorrect.

The Organization as a whole was never meant to be seen 
as a method to do such a thing. 
Of course, what our Agents stated independently 
was a different matter altogether, 
but it would have been unrealistic to try 
and control every implication and outright lie. 
We were harboring murderers and delusional fanatics, 
and chasing after social deviants.

 That, David, is just a matter of knowing your audience.
You must remember that my goal - no, our goal, 
was never to save lives.
 It was to minimize damages, on all sides.
 Anyone who believed otherwise 
simply did not see the wider scope of the Organization's actions.

 The 'Assignment' system specifically allowed for control of 
local economies, political parties, the law, 
and, most importantly, the media. 
Exponential growth meant more control, 
and more control meant that we could reduce the Creature's spread. 
But that was all... a sum of parts, if you will.
 A small part of the bigger picture. 
Let me assure you; it is a lot more complicated than 'save' and 'not saving'. 
I wouldn't expect you to fully understand the repercussions of such measures 
being even temporarily out of commission.
As for 'mine', Sam, I don't know what you're referring to.

 But if you're asking how Redlight's rise to power was allowed to happen,
 I'm simply not able to tell you. 
All that I can say for certain is that our files were either tampered with
 or the plans to create such a creature had been in motion for a long time.
 Either way, someone, or something, obviously put a lot of effort
 into convincing us that the Storyteller,
though a powerful Proxy that was in desperate need of re-acquisition,
 was not anything more than that.
I personally wonder why the Runners were so accepting of Teller at the time, 
but then again, I suppose there's a reason why there aren't exactly 
a lot of them alive anymore. 
Apathy evidently hasn't done anyone much good, 
given the current situation, 
but I digress."

"...Sam, I think you may have misunderstood               
the reason why I brought you in.              
But, first, I want to ask you...              
did you enjoy doing this?"              



               "I... wish I'd had salt.
               Make it... hurt more."

i blinked... and suddenly the file was gone. leaving just the high sheen gloss across the wood desk before me with the glass of whiskey still waiting there untouched. the disappearing act had surprised me enough to snap my gaze up... and onto The Author's waiting stare. the file back in his hands. shark eyes ever observing. eyes that made you feel like, even if there was a wall between him and you, he'd still see all your Tells. every twitch. every flinch. every shift. it always felt... like the air itself gave you away. that... reality itself... reported back to him.

"In that case,              
I do believe congratulations are in order."              

              For... what, exactly?"

"For your self-acquired promotion, of course.              
I must say, Sam, this whole incident came as a bit of a surprise.              
You don't exactly strike a person as our 'type'...              
and, for that reason, we didn't expect much from you.              
If anything at all, quite honestly.              
Yet... what you've managed to accomplish..."              

 "...A long time ago, we met for the first time. 
Do you remember that, Author? 
Back when I went by 'Gauntlet' instead?
I remember that. 
I remember feeling... this charge in the air the first time. 
I remember... you correcting me.
 About how being... 
assigned to Dimme hadn't been a... punishment. 
But rather a... precaution.
 I remember... you asking if I would fill in any blanks to my records.... 
if the information never left your office.
 I remember... you telling me about your son.

Your son who was raised by the Cults.
Who questioned his very place in the world. 
Who... fought a demon in him no one really saw or understood. 
Who was overtaken by that demon. 
And became the demon at the same time. 
Who then used my own dead son to orchestrate my own destruction.
Who made certain I wouldn't be able to even look at a picture of my boy 
without hearing his voice in my head. 
Asking me why I didn't love him anymore...
why I left him behind...

I may be broken, Author.
But I am not a Fool. 

Your son mutilated the memory of mine. 
The dots aren't hard to connect. 
Why you even bother to tip toe around it is well beyond me...

...It doesn't matter. 
Who did what or is admitting to what... 
doesn't change anything. 
The opportunity to End it before it Began is long gone. 

The opportunity... to End it at all might be long gone..."

"It's curious.              
Dimme herself was far from a simple woman.              
She was very skilled               
and plenty more experienced than you...              
and you still reduced her to scrap meat.              
 Of course, its always troublesome to lose an Agent...              
But we're in the business of making monsters,              
I'm sure you recall.              
If one must die in order to create something better...              
well, far be it from us to stand in the way of progress."              

we spoke for a little while... until there was a knock at the door and, at Author's beckon, a priest entered.

it was the first time i saw Requiem

we were shortly introduced. he didn't offer his hand. something i was grateful for, as i wouldn't have taken it anyway. Dimme having successfully drilled such paranoia into my skull. i later learned that Philip had his own reason for not being able to stand being touched. though his was in the form of a priest who used to get too friendly with the choir boys. it was the reason i was so shocked... when he placed his hands around mine when giving me his medallion way back when...

he was a good man

The Author took time to carefully explain that Requiem was not, in any way, my new Handler. that he was a Squad Leader.  that i was only being temporarily, and individually, assigned to The Church while i healed and got a handle on what was going to be expected of me now as a solo Agent. allowing me further experience in settling my own affairs... as well as working in a group. Author said it would be good for me to be thrust into group work. said i needed to learn to relax.

i didn't trust it at first... but it became a good change after Dimme.

Good People.

all fucking nuts in their own ways... but so was i. i started finding my pace with them. started... really enjoying myself more and more...

"...That was a long time ago.
I asked you to keep a careful eye on Storyteller...
 because I shouldn't. Couldn't. 
The conflict of interest was clear, after all,
and even the Highest are always being observed for signs of... disobedience.
There was something wrong with him, yes, 
but I could never exactly discern what that was. 
Perhaps you felt it as well. 
I wouldn't know. 
I never had enough contact to be able to figure out exactly 
how sinister this whole situation had become.

That was my choice. 
My mistake. 
A rather grievous one, to be frank. 
But if you want closure, I'm more than happy to give it to you."

He's stares at a wall. A window. A wall. 
Winces. Takes another drink. 
The world tilts a few degrees to the left before it rights itself. 
A breeze blows through the office when there shouldn't be one.

"The Storyteller and I were genetically related. 


Calling him my son, however, seems..."

Stumbling, pausing, unsure.

"Disrespectful to him. 
We had nothing to do with each other,
 and the only reason I regret such a thing is because all was not as it seemed, 
and he was much more dangerous than I could have imagined. 
Granted, we were all misled, but it doesn't really matter, does it? 
Any Crafter is dangerous, not to mention one with his lineage. 
Perhaps I was foolish in believing
 that he could be the archetype for a permanent solution,
 a world where the perfect proxy could be manufactured, 
not recruited. 
Perhaps I was focusing on all the wrong things 
in all the wrong places...

Things certainly do seem grim.
A world under Redlight's rule is not one that I will tolerate, 
but here we stand, crippled at best, broken at worst, 
while his plague spreads. 
And the Creature only seems to endorse it.

 I'm left wondering if the storm has only just begun."

the third time i met The Author...

"Sam. There's nothing here for us. 
Lets leave."

It Was Because I Wanted To Watch The World Burn.

"David, try not to forget that even if you and I die
 in the coming weeks, months, or years...
 there is someone else who you care about 
who will have nothing for her anywhere if Redlight gets his way.

If there is any chance to shift this one way or another..."

after months of only being able to wonder about what had happened to my son after being put into an orphanage... praying that he was safe... happy... loved...

i did something i swore i wouldn't

i looked back

and reality drove its fist into my gut... as i found out that Leo Prescott was dead. hit by a car. just another dead deer on the side of the road.

"If there's any chance to shift it, we won't find it in this room."

not ten minutes after i'd found out... i was informed i had a mission to go on. an elimination.

by the time i was done... they were barely recognizable as the target

in my next elimination after that... the ID of the Runner had to be confirmed through DNA testing

"Has he... it... that thing... threatened the girl yet?"

i received a call from one of the Highers after that

i was told to tone it down

"or else"

David threw one of the whiskey glasses at him.

my next assignment... was concerning someone who got themselves locked in an insane asylum. i don't even remember their name. i don't believe i even bothered to look at it. to remember it. remember the face. i didn't need it.

i just took the address

mental institutions have come a long way over the years, really. what used to be the sheer white equivalent of prisons and torture houses were now manicured facilities with calming tones of pale blues and greens slapped around. certain degrees of freedom were permitted for the more... tranquil patients. all a matter of moderation, i guess.

my aim when i walked through those doors though... had nothing at all to do with moderation

i wanted RIVERS of blood

from everyone



It vanishes in mid-air (did it ever exist in the first place?) and he laughs, 
the sound surprisingly ugly and raw. 
"Because if he hasn't yet, he will soon enough. 
I don't know why he seems so intent on ruining you both, 
but it did strike me as somewhat irresponsible 
for you to take charge of her care so suddenly, David. 
At least the Creature's influence is somewhat passive. 
Though perhaps I shouldn't be talking."

He downs the rest of his drink, still staring into space.

"I abandoned Spencer, and look where that got all of us. 
Though seeing your charge become the next Redlight 
may be better than seeing her as another Network inductee. 
I wonder what you'll choose; 
the selfish path or the coward's way out..."

no one tried to flee at first. they only tried to intervene. i'm not very big. i suppose they thought they could muscle me. though i arrived as a living shadow, i didn't cause any immediate problem... so they weren't panicked about it. i didn't have to drop anyone prematurely...  least not until i let my gauntlet's blades tear out the throat of one of the orderlies that attempted to stop me from activating the Emergency Lockdown.

at that point, i had what i wanted

penned cattle fit for slaughter

my second kill... walked in on me with my boot planted down on the orderly's body while using the orderly's hair to rip his skull from his spinal cord. poor bastard really shouldn't have frozen in horror. gave me the instant i needed to finish ripping the head free before using it as a club against his own. he dropped like a rock. but i kept going until both skulls were nearly mush.

much like most brains are

blunt force trauma or no

David made a move at him,
one fist clenched while the other slipped to his pocket.

i remember... picking pieces of bone from my hair. flicking them away. feeling the blood soaking through my clothes. the same blood that covered everything. a bath of crimson. everywhere. all around. even across the ceiling... dripping down the walls...

i took the nurse's head too

two heads are always better than one, right? least that's what they say...

 I grabbed his sleeve before he could.
"David. Don't. That's not why we're here..
Just... could you... wait outside for a minute?"

when i left the room... i spotted a gathering of perplexed people down the hall. i don't remember who they were. i don't remember what they were wearing. they could have been nurses. doctors. patients. groundskeepers. could have been world leaders for all i know. whoever they were though... they still screamed when i threw the bloody, battered skulls at them. hitting and smearing across the floor.

a silent warning of what was to come

hallway by hallway

room by room

"No. I'm not leaving you alone with HIM.
We're going now. Both of us."

one by one

by one

by one

"...David. The Author is not the enemy here.
I'll be fine. Just a few minutes. 
Just... go.
I mean it. I'll be right out.
The Author and I... go back...
I need... to talk to him. Alone. I'm sorry..."

by one...

i painted the walls. a work of art. a masterpiece that only grew with every body. every scream. every plead.

i don't remember talking to any of them

i just continued my slaughter

like the monster i was supposed to be...

He hesitated, a trace of worry, a trace of hurt,
only to nod.
Passing one last look to Author
before stepping out. 

i do vaguely remember... giving the head doctor something of a labotomy...

The Author watched him go.
"...Never would have believed you two could get along,
if I didn't just see it with my own eyes.
He's grown quite attached to you, hasn't he?"

and, along my way, water swept the blood into a current. turning halls into crimson rivers that only grew with every water fountain i tore from the wall. ever sink... that i broke the pipes from. every water vein that i could find... even setting off the sprinkler system along the way to add what it could to my final performance...

the police were there at that point.

forcing their way in...

i let them have their hunt.

i let them believe themselves to be the wolf pack. like so many of us like to delude ourselves into thinking we are anything short of prey. just simple... predictable... prey...

"...There was always friction because we were both Dominates in a group.
Needless to say, that is... no longer the case.
I'm not the Proxy I used to be.
Then again... I'm not a lot of the things I used to be.
Redlight... made certain of that.

...I think David misses the sparks, to be honest.
Sometimes I wonder if he just keeps me around out of pity.
A longing for the Old Days..."

when i could hear their sloshing steps closing in... i dropped the main circuit wire into that red river. i can still hear... the angry snarl of electricity that tore through that mix of blood and water. the crackle and hiss as the charge drove itself out... and onto my hunters. there was smoke. and stink. and sounds that... i can't even describe as the electricity snapped... and then the power cut out. dissolving my blood gallery into darkness...

that was when i felt it

a sudden shift

a sudden... change

a familiar feeling crawling up my spine

at first, i thought it was Father...

but in the next instant i knew differently

"...I don't believe it's pity, Sam.
Guilt, perhaps. For not noticing you change sooner,
 and letting you suffer and break like you did.
But not pity."
He seemed to eye me, seeing through me,
in that way he always did.
"You need to occupy yourself, Sam.
That demon inside your mind will eat you alive if you let it.
You know full well what The Silence can do to you...

 And, in all honesty, Sam...
I believe Banks will hold you back.

He wants to give you back a normal life,
like the one you had as a High School Teacher.
But you can't pretend, can you?
You're a Soldier, even crippled as you are...
Even as broken as you are, you just can't let go of the Job.
It's the only world you understand anymore.
I did that to you, in part. And for that, I am sorry.
But I can... help, in a way.

You can stay here, Sam.

You can work with me.
I have an entire Organization to rebuild.
I could use someone who...
Understands how things Need To Be.
Someone I don't have to explain the complexities to.
If you want a Place in this world, Sam...
I can offer you a Desk Job.
You could consider it your official retirement."

i'd killed my way... into gaining The Author's direct attention

i should have been pleased

it was what i had wanted, after all

one last "fuck you" before i got what was coming to me.

before i could finally rest for good in a well-deserved death. for i had felt so sick, so cheated, of life by then....

but, in that moment, the only thing i felt... was dread

i didn't think.

i only ran.

i took an emergency exit. open now, thanks to the power failure.

i ran until every alleyway swayed and flickered with harsh, florescent lighting

until every building, every room, echoed as the ghost of a nondescript office building with mazed halls

until quiet, unyielding footsteps followed around every turn and bend

until i was... somewhere... not quite here or there...

"...I can't."
even though i thought maybe...
"Thank you for the offer but...
I... I can't leave David alone. Not now.
He saved me from The Red, I can't just..."

until i opened a door

and found myself facing a wall of blinding white

only to then turn on my heel in retreat... and face another wall of white

the doorway itself disappeared somewhere in between

no windows

no doors

no creases or cracks or crevices

the very essence of nowhere

the void

that's what The Author dropped me into: a box

a box that i could scream at

slash at

kick and punch at

and not even leave a scratch as proof of my existence there

"...I see. Pity.
Then, as that is the case, 
I feel this will be our last meeting.

Good luck, Sam.

...though, there is one thing I wish to ask of you, 
before you go..."

not that i resorted to such things, of course. it would have been a waste and an embarrassment. i knew better by then. i knew the Game. and i knew... that i knew enough that this didn't have to be a dead end. this didn't have to be my final scene. i didn't have to be a victim - i WASN'T a victim. not prey, but predator. the hunter, in every sense. i wasn't a rookie... and i didn't have to play that role just because of my company. i had my own role in mind. my own game turning about in my mind... to convince The Author not to end the night's bloodbath with my own crimson accent...

it was in that little spot of nothing... that one of two things happened.

either i lost my mind

or i found it

i'm still not sure which it was.

but if i could pin point... where i believe "Gauntlet" became what you know or knew as "Nightscream"... it was that last meeting. that was the birth... of all the death and destruction and chaos that followed.

that's where my demise began.

with a simple handshake

and a deal

to keep an eye on the son

that the Valtiel known as Samael kept him away from.

to try to gain confidence

gain interest

The Author asked me... 
to use whatever sway I still have left to send a message.

To you. All of you. Runners and Proxies, alike.
Even those of you who may... 
be thinking the world has become more Red, of late.
We have a common enemy. 

And an enemy of my enemy...

If you need help. If you need shelter or food or supplies...
The Author can be trusted. He can help, a little.
He can't do miracles, but he can help.
The Organization must be rebuilt, one piece at a time.
What remains under his control is a mere sliver of what it once was,
but it can and MUST BE rebuilt.
Proxies and Runners are already working there, right now.
I met a couple of them, while I was there.
There was a nice boy named Ryan.
A Deaf/Mute Runner, he works with a small squad
under the leadership of a woman
"Black Widow"
and an assortment of others.
Together, they run field missions.
Recruitment and Rescues.
Communications with other Cults.
And, when needed, Eliminations.
Some groups seems to handle the Runner/Proxy 
combinations better than others but...

We have to try.

Please try.

it wasn't supposed to be this way

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